A Kick for Kickstarters: Project Rap Rabbit

Rhythm games and their developers have seen better days. Though the genre was never prosperous, there was a time where new titles in the genre were regularly released, between those that used musical instruments and didn’t. They took off during the PSOne era, when Sony established an audience for them on the console with PaRappa the Rapper and spiritual successor Um Jammer Lammy. While those continued with titles like PaRappa the Rapper 2, Gitaroo Man, and Elite Beat Agents, the real moneymakers here were those that used accessories like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which thrived for a short while during the last console generation.

But you don’t hear much about those titles anymore. After those two aforementioned franchises received too many sequels and upgraded expensive accessories too quickly, this segment of the industry collapsed upon itself. Sadly, they took rhythm games that didn’t use those devices with them, though publishers having trouble further selling the games for $40-60 at retail was part of that, and most were too expensive to develop for the digital market. There was an attempt to revive Guitar Hero and Rock Band for current consoles, but it fell on deaf ears (since, you know, the people they wanted to attract didn’t hear about them) — and it’s part of the reason why Mad Catz went out of business.

Some developers still want to make games like this, but they’re having trouble getting the funding from publishers after the doldrums mentioned above. That means they’re turning to another familiar alternative: crowdfunding. This previously worked for Guitar Hero developer Harmonix, who held a successful campaign for Amplitude on Kickstarter. Now, another developer who used to habitually release music games wants to give it a shot, one from familiar names. Both PaRappa the Rapper/Um Jammer Lammy developer NanaOn-Sha and Elite Beat Agents/Gitaroo Man developer iNiS Corporation are combining their efforts for Project Rap Rabbit, a new effort that recently launched on Kickstarter.

Project Rap Rabbit is, well, a project about a rapping rabbit named Toto-Maru, whose story takes place in 16th century Japan. He embarks on a journey to mend a demoralized world through lyrics of truth and justice alongside sidekick Otama-Maru. The game will feature six levels where Toto-Maru has to outperform his opponents through the power of rap, with players tapping rhythmic beats with his hip hop (get it!?) and posing, similar to older games in the genre. Successfully rappin’ good will keep the Swag Gauge at a positive level, but players will have to be careful not to let the opponent’s similar gauge overtake theirs. The lyrics will tell a detailed story, which is where iNiS’ touch comes into play, and the music itself will represent a fusion of Japanese and American styles.

Both developers have plans for the game’s development in order, but meeting the lofty initial goal will be a challenging task. They’re asking for $1.1 million to create it, and while that’s a realistic budget as far as game development goes, it’s a lot to ask regarding a crowdfunding effort for a rhythm title. It’s partly an unfortunate victim of the current times, as people are still hesitant to pledge money to video game crowdfunding campaigns due to projects that either underdelivered or never released after being funded. There are more examples of crowdfunding successes than failures, but the latter types unfortunately receive more publicity. Having no gameplay footage available only makes potential pledgers hesitant, as all they have are conceptual artwork envisioning what they intend for the game to resemble.

The other issue the developers are facing is how rhythm games aren’t as in-demand as they previously were, to a point where not even crowdfunding can help most examples. It’s a story the current level of pledging tells, as it’s only raised around $125,000 as of this writing, despite the campaign being active for over 48 hours. Video game campaigns tend to accrue the largest amount of pledges during the first and last few days, so this starting amount isn’t encouraging for its potential successes.

The stretch goals were initially even more optimistic when it started. For instance, the goal for an Xbox One port was originally set at $3.1 million, while a Switch version would be made if it reached a whopping $4.95 million. Upon seeing it, I took this as an indirect signal of how uninterested they were in porting it to Switch, but they’ve since lowered the goal considerably to $1.5 million. That should be reachable if it hits the initial goal, and I can’t emphasize “if” enough. A new goal for an XB1 version will be added down the line according to an update posted, presumably if (again, emphasis) the funding pace increases.

Both development houses have good intentions here, but unless this receives some great publicity during the campaign’s remaining 33 days, I’m having a hard time seeing this succeed at its current rate. Keep in mind exposure was already provided in the form of reporting from the biggest enthusiast gaming press sites around.

Project Rap Rabbit already has a publisher in PQube, who’s previously handled localized Japanese releases like the Steins;Gate titles and Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni. They don’t appear to be capable of funding a game themselves, but if they don’t, hopefully they can partner up with another publisher. That is, assuming a surprise influx of pledges isn’t on the way.

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